The start of Manchester United’s season can quite nicely be divided into two parts: games with Paul Pogba and games without him.
Before the Frenchman’s injury in the Champions League home game against Basel in September, United were unbeaten. In the time between that game and his return against Newcastle on November 18th, Jose Mourinho’s side had lost eight points on league leaders Manchester City.
Since then, United did lose away to Basel in the Champions League, though only an historic collapse would see them fail to qualify. In the Premier League, they’ve won all three of their games since his return.
On Tuesday night against Watford, United were back to producing a more convincing display, even if Marco Silva’s side did look like they were about to stage a comeback towards the end. Interestingly, though, the Hornets had almost 60% of the ball possession in a game of football where the stats look fairly even.
It’s tempting, then, to suggest that the game was decided more by Manchester United’s individual quality than their dominance in the game, but a Jose Mourinho side is usually more dangerous without the ball, and so it proved
Pogba’s numbers from the night show the gameplan.
His pass accuracy of 74% seems – and is – very low for a Manchester United central midfielder, and one who was the most expensive player in the world when he was bought just a year and a half ago. But it’s symptomatic of his side’s play.
Pogba was direct as he tried to take players on all night, attempting five dribbles and completing four of them. Importantly, too, he was involved more than any other Manchester United player on the night, seeing more touches than any of his teammates and winning more aerial duels than anyone else apart from Watford’s Kabasele, with whom he was tied.
It was an all-round performance from the Frenchman, however, as he was instrumental in the midfield during United’s transitions between defence and attack as well as making two tackles and taking two shots, showing his importance at both ends.
On a night where Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard might take lots of the plaudits because of their impactful displays and goals, Pogba’s contribution to his side’s overall play might well be overlooked. But it shouldn’t be. One player doesn’t make a team, especially not one with as much quality as this United side, but over the last few weeks we’ve seen some better performances from Jose Mourinho’s side coincide with the Frenchman’s return – but it’s certainly not an accident.